Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ad Hominem in Mormon Studies

I have come across many sites that irk me for one reason or another. I have recently put my finger on one of the more frequent problems I see. In order to illustrate this I will take everybody back to my last class on American Military history.

(Cue the wavy lines and flash back music)

One of our main texts books was by Kenneth Hagan. I don't know this guy from Adam but he did make some interesting arguments about America's naval theory and actions. He argued that America's dominant naval tradition was Guerre De Course and not a Mahanian desire for big ships and decisive battle. Now I won't get into the details and problems of his argument. Around the time we were studying the Spanish American War I made an argument about U.S. strategy that used the Hagan book. In response I was simply told by the individual in the class that I could not use him because he is biased. I asked for proof, or some analysis showing that he was biased. He did not give me any except to basically say "trust me: I know what I am talking about". I was not only less than impressed with his analytical skills, but I was extremely annoyed because he never pushed back against my analysis or argument, but simply repeated the fact that he "distrusted" Hagan for unnamed reasons.(Upon review that reflected his bias more than any supposed fault with Hagan) What it boiled down to was that he disqualified a person and not an argument. In fact, he would later go on to attack me, and not my argument as well. (This was not the most pleasant semester of school to say the least)

(Cue the wavy lines and back to the present music)

Now in studies of the Book of Mormon I often hear the question: What non Mormon scholar argue that it is true? This meets the criterion for ad hominem fallacy, which in simple terms means that you attack the person instead of his argument. Thus if Kenneth Hagan becomes "biased" than you can safely dismiss his argument without reviewing it. And if you can dismiss a scholar simply because of who he is (a Mormon) then you can also dismiss his argument without the effort of actually reading and contending with the persons logic or reasoning. If a person has been professional in building his case then it should not matter who that person is. What would matter is the argument that person made and if he adequately proves his thesis. Thus many people build a case in trying to prove the Book of Mormon; barring that they make a sufficient case for its plausibility. And so many times we are met with the response that we are Mormon scholars. The End.

In my personnel experience I rarely have anybody question my arguments, my cases, my evidence, or my research. I have simply been dismissed based on who I am. Thus many Book of Mormon scholars feel that others cannot contend with their arguments because they don't. (See the Mosser and Owens article here)This is shoddy scholarship in the realm of American history or Mormon Studies. With this in mind, I invite comments concerning my research into warfare in the Book of Mormon.

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